This is another rewrite of an earlier myTake about the folly of attempting to reconcile failed relationships. This is NOT directed at couples who break up for reasons that do not relate to the quality of the relationship, like you dated for three years and then her family moved to another planet.
This is also not directed at you if you feel that you honestly did not try as hard as you could have tried the first time around. Maybe you should consider going back to try again. You’re going to be driven by your guilt and it probably won’t work the second time, either, but at least you won’t look back and have regrets and wonder if it would have worked if you had given it a complete effort.
This myTake is for those who broke up because either you or your partner said, “I’ve had enough of this and I need to get out of here.” Recently, I am one of those people.
I dated her for two years. We were compatible in many ways. We had similar educations and career paths. In fact, we had many professional acquaintances in common. We both love college football, jazz, live music, and witty humor.
We enjoyed many activities together. We always held hands. We both met each other’s family and friends. After about four months, we started spending weekends together. Sometimes, I spent Friday and Saturday nights and sometimes I spent Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights there. We both enjoyed the physical relationship, the companionship, the affection. There were many things which we did not need to explain to each other simply because we already understood. It was perfect.
She liked me, she respected me, she trusted me. She had sex with me. We were a loving couple and it was perfect except for one thing. She did not love me. After two years, she still didn’t love me.
We talked about why she did not have feelings for me. Until the end, she blamed it on her history. She had been married for 23 years to a man who she had finally learned repeatedly cheated on her. I tried to understand and to be empathetic. “If only I am sufficiently understanding and supportive, we will overcome this obstacle and she will see that I am The One for her.” It sounded good.
In the last 6 months of the relationship, I had the feeling that she would be happier if I was not around. I also suspected that she would feel guilty about breaking up with me;. I had not done anything wrong in the relationship (except fall in love with the wrong woman.) In our last conversation, she hinted that maybe it was something about me but she wouldn’t be specific. I asked if she wanted me to break up with her and she gave me a very equivocal reply. So I felt that she was pushing me away in hopes that I would break up with her.
I didn’t want a messy breakup scene (especially because her stepson was temporarily living with her due to a broken foot and he never left the house.) I collected all my possessions while she was out of town for a week. She was on a cruise and not available by telephone so I sent her an email and also left a letter for her at her home. “I love you and I’m disappointed and this is not easy but . . . goodbye.”
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As soon as she returned to town, I had some of those dreaded feelings. “Maybe this wasn’t such a great idea,” I thought. I looked at my phone. Should I call her? I wanted to because I miss her. We had many good times together and being alone blows. Did I over-react? Should I try to salvage something from this mess? Maybe this is as good as it gets and I should learn to be satisfied with what I had.
There are a few reasons why people try to reconcile relationships.
1. Selective memory. You’ve known people who were normal – they had good traits and bad traits- and then they died. All of a sudden, they were a saint. They were wonderful. They never did anything wrong, never said a bad word about anyone, and there was one time that they actually walked on water!
We miss them and, for some of us, our memory is very selective. We remember the good parts and forget the bad parts.
We do the same thing with failed relationships. I miss the way she put her head on my shoulder and went to sleep. I miss the way we ALWAYS understood each other. I miss the feel of her arms around me. I had to force myself to remember all those conversations where she said it wasn’t me, there was something wrong with her, but she wasn’t being honest with me – and at the end, she left town for a week without even calling me to say goodbye. That hurt! I had to keep reminding myself of those unpleasant facts.
2. Fear And Desperation. “I’m really not good enough to deserve a boyfriend. I’m . . . different than other girls. I’m not cute. I don’t know all the really cool things to say to a guy. I don’t have a pretty face. My boobs are too small. I’m not the kind of girl a guy brags about like a trophy that he won. I just don’t have what other girls have.” Or “I’m such a dork and a loser. No girl would ever want me. I still live with my parents, I have a shit job, and I have a stupid car. My dick’s only 5½” [actually, statistically normal], I don’t do cool stuff, and I don’t know how to talk to girls.”
Sound familiar? Despite all of those insecurities . . . you finally got a date and it wasn’t a disaster. In fact, he wanted to see you again, the next weekend. Before long, you were seeing each other every week and once or twice during the week and you felt like you were on top of the world, until . . . “we need to talk.” After the break up, you were devastated and you thought that your life was over. You knew, beyond all doubt, that no other guy would ever want to go out with you. Certainly no guy would ever want to have sex with you. You were destined to die like an old maid, with 78 cats in the house and a video report on the 11 o’clock news, unless . . . there was only one thing to do. You had to get him back!
As you get older, experience may cure you of this motivation for wanting to re-enter the gates of Hell. I have been through enough breakups to know that I can usually find somebody else if I spend enough time looking.
3. Magic Thinking. If we get back together, this time it will be different! We’ll make things work. We’ll try harder. Something will happen so that it will work. I just know it! We’ve spent so much time together, it just has to work!
If simply saying something made it true, we would all be heroes, astronauts, and movie stars. We would all be beautiful and we could eat biscuits and honey every morning without gaining weight! Obviously, that is not the way this world REALLY works, right?
4. Pride. Maybe you didn’t think about why it didn’t work or what role you played in the break up because you didn’t want to think about that stuff. It felt like it would be easier to reconcile than to admit that it didn’t work . . . that you didn’t make it work.
Sometimes, particularly when you are younger, it is difficult to admit out shortcomings. It is not easy to say to yourself, “That was my fault. I didn’t give her the attention that she deserved. I paid more attention to others and then expected her to be devoted to me. I was selfish.” That kind of brutal self-critical analysis is what makes people grow but it is not always easy. Sometimes it doesn’t start until we are confronted with a situation in which we cannot avoid admitting some fault. Finally, we see that not only did the world not come to an end, but we could live with a self-concept that included some acknowledgment of our faults.
In my failed relationship, I was too patient, too trusting, too optimistic, and I did not engage in a realistic appraisal of her strengths and weaknesses as a girlfriend. It just felt too damned good for me to bother with that . . . and, eventually, I paid a greater price for that failing.
Note to self: don’t do THAT again!
5. People can change . . . right? “It will be different this time,” you tell yourself. “I’ll change. I think she’s changed, too.”
People do change over time. I am not the exact same person that I was at 16. Thank you, Jesus! But I am not an entirely different person. I am not as introverted and shy as I was at 16 but I am still not an extrovert. I still have periods of depression. I still have a hard time motivating myself to exercise. I am still somewhat sarcastic at times. I still hide behind my education at times.
Most people are capable of SOME change but almost no one changes into a drastically different person.
And . . . many people change very little. Most people have no motivation to change and it is difficult even when you ARE motivated.
Having heard all of that, you may say to yourself, “But we’re different and. . . blah, blah, blah.” Yes, You are different. Everyone is different in some ways. As Margaret Mead said, “You should never forget that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Get it? Yes, you are different but you’re not THAT different. You are different in some minor ways and those differences probably won’t lead to a different result for you.
6. “I’ll try harder.” News flash: one person, making as much effort as Superman on steroids, cannot make a relationship work. Seventeen years of marriage to my first wife proved that point to me. Ask anyone who is at least 30 years old and they will tell you the same thing: you trying harder won’t make a difference if your ex doesn’t want to make it work.
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Whatever reason you have for wanting to reconcile . . . the bottom line is that, the first time you tried it, it didn’t work. And you may still genuinely love him, and he may still genuinely love you, but the truth is that it takes more than love to make a relationship work. And you didn’t have enough of whatever it takes.
You came to know each other and, after having that experience, one of you said to the other, “I don’t want to be with you anymore.” No one pressured you to end the relationship. At least one of you thought it was a good idea.
So you went your separate ways . . . at least for a while.
When you got together the first time, it took a while to get beyond the honeymoon phase and to begin appraising each other realistically. That’s when at least one of you realized that you didn’t want to be in the relationship.
The second time around, the honeymoon phase will be much shorter and you will soon arrive at the same point. Whatever problems, conflicts, differences, etc. you had the first time . . . they are still present. You broke up because you couldn’t solve the problems and those problems weren’t minor problems. They were so significant that at least one of you thought it was better to pull the plug and let the relationship come to an end.
Those problems are still there. They didn’t go away just because a few weeks or months passed. All of those little irritating things she did . . . you remember? She still does them! The way he always said unpleasant things about people who were different . . . remember? . . . he still says them. If he knows that bothers you, he will shut his pie hole for a while but then he’ll start saying those things again.
When you were having sex and she just lay there like a limp rag doll and never gave you a clue about what turned her on and then all of a sudden, she had an orgasm and it was over and it wasn’t a big deal . . . she still acts the same way in bed. She still doesn’t swallow. He still won’t go down on you. She still orders the most expensive item on the menu. He’s still a cheapskate. She will still spend way too much time texting her friends when she is with you. Your family still won’t be important to him.
Good relationships don’t just happen when the right people get together. Mr. Right and Ms Wonderful fall in love and it’s wonderful, everything is easy, life is a picnic in the park, and somebody sends you free chocolate doughnuts every morning; is THAT what you think?
If that’s what somebody told you, they lied. Relationships take love, passion, trust, and respect, and they require two people willing to work to make the relationship succeed.
Sit down and brace yourself for the really awful news: you can love someone dearly and the relationship still won’t work. I know, you hate me for saying that, but its true . . . and it’s what you need to hear!
Look at the relationship differently. Don’t view it as a failure. You came together with someone and you gave it a good effort. You discovered that you were not meant for each other. Instead of trying to hammer square pegs into round holes, you acknowledged your discovery and broke up so that you would be free to pursue someone with whom you might be more compatible. While the result was not a success, you did what you should have done and resolved things in a mature manner. You are not trying to hang on to something that won’t work. That is not a dismal failure but a sign that you have matured in the way you handle relationships.
However, if you think it was a gigantic failure and that is simply too much for you to accept, you will reunite. When you break up the second time, you will ask yourself, “Why ITF did I do that again?” You will have one more reason to beat yourself up. If you parted on good terms the first time, that is as good as it gets. Perhaps the second time, you will part on less than good terms. And you will have wasted your time and energy.
So . . . that’s why it’s not a good idea to reconcile a relationship that has broken up.
This is one of those rules that most people insist on discovering for themselves, so, if you go back and try it again. . . good luck! When it doesn’t work, you can write a myTake and post it here, hoping to share your wisdom with others so that they won’t make the same mistake.
That’s what I did . . . and they won’t listen to you, either.